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Third-Degree Burns Can Happen in a Flash

When the frightening possibility of receiving a 3rd-degree burn enters into most people’s minds, they tend to think that such a severe burn can only be gotten from having a flame touch the skin for several seconds or more. But the possibility of getting a burn that penetrates and does damage beyond all the layers of skin in one area of the body–which is the simplest definition of a 3rd-degree burn–is greater than simply being exposed to a flame.

Take the recent case of a Fort Lauderdale man who was severely burned by an unusual source. One recent morning, the man decided to have a cigarette, but he lit up while sitting next to a medical oxygen tank that he used to help his breathing. Unfortunately, because there was a stream of oxygen flowing through the mask–and oxygen is a very powerful accelerant of fire–the tank literally blew up in the room. In an instant, the heat from that explosion badly burned the man, even though there was no fire after the explosion.

It can be the same way with natural gas, which is used in many homes for appliances and for heating. If a source of natural gas is leaking in a home or any enclosed space, it does not even take an open flame to cause a huge superheated flash–just a spark from an appliance switching on could ignite the gas, causing a flash that can literally destroy all the layers of skin on any exposed body part, or even melt clothing onto skin that is covered! Larry Kramer, a partner in the law firm of Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, NY, has had clients who received 3rd-degree burns from natural gas being ignited; these burns can happen in just a fraction of a second, and not necessarily from any fire afterward.

Here’s another scenario for 3rd-degree burns that you might never have thought about: Hot liquid spilling onto the skin. In fact, on January 27, a jury in Georgia awarded $1.2 million to a woman who said she was scalded by 190-degree water that shot out of a convenience store’s cappuccino machine. The woman, 52 years old, was burned on her hand and arm as she held her cup near the machine at a QuikTrip convenience store one night in late 2007. A part of the machine had been removed for cleaning, without her knowledge, when she attempted to use the machine. The company which owns QuikTrip wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press after the verdict that the woman’s injury resulted from a rare accident, and that the firm has since replaced the cappuccino machines at all its stores.

This incident only took a second or two, but the woman now needs to take prescription pain medication regularly, and might now need an electronic implant to correct nerve damage in her hand and forearm caused by the 3rd-degree burns. The woman’s attorney noted that most of the money she will receive from the verdict will go towards these and other future medical expenses.